German Village, just south of downtown Columbus, is one of the most idyllic neighborhoods in the country. The history of this charming enclave is vast, and we've gathered all the high points history buffs need to know.
In the Beginning
Columbus has been a haven for immigrants since its founding in 1812. One of the earliest groups to come to the city in large numbers were Germans, who settled south of downtown; the area soon became known as "die alte sud ende" or the Old South End. Over time, the name of this area became German Village. The original settlers were instrumental in building the original Ohio Statehouse, and their homes were an easy walk away from this project. The original homes in this area were simple brick structures with little ornamentation.
By 1865, one-third of Columbus' residents were German, and German-language newspapers, schools and churches filled the neighborhood. Even the breweries that gave the adjacent Brewery District its name were largely owned and staffed by the German-American community.
The first brewery was opened in 1863 by German immigrant Louis Hoster, and over the next three decades five more breweries were established in the area. These breweries were fundamental in the development of the working class and sovereignty of the area. The new complexes contained buildings for almost every facet of production: malt houses, brewing buildings, bottling plants, keg warehouses and horse stables.
As the city's borders edged south, an area known as Stewart's Grove became protected parkland in 1867, and is now known as Schiller Park (named after German poet Friedrich Schiller); the area was quickly surrounded by homes and businesses, and today, Schiller Park is one of the city's most popular public gems. The majority of the neighborhood's existing buildings date from the last quarter of the 19th century, and the homes around the park feature some astounding examples of architecture.
Decline and Rebirth
World War I was a turning point for the neighborhood, as anti-German sentiment ran high across America. Street names were anglicized and schools were no longer permitted to teach in German. Beginning in 1920, prohibition hit the brewery-based economy of the neighborhood hard, and many people left the area to find work in other parts of the city. The entire northern third of the neighborhood (the portion between Main Street and Livingston Avenue) was demolished to make way for I-70, and what remained became an undesirable place to live.
Visionaries in the late 1950s, including Frank Fetch, saw the potential in German Village's historic and distinctive building stock, and people slowly began moving back to renovate old homes. Historic preservation was a fairly radical idea at the time, but the community began to rebuild itself, with the area's history its strongest asset. By 1963, the German Village Society and an architectural review board, the German Village Commission, were established to keep the neighborhood a special place. In 1974, German Village was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and by 1980, it was one of the most desirable places to live and visit in Columbus.
The Village Today
Buoyed by the historic character of its brick streets and buildings, as well as the mixed-use origins of the neighborhood, German Village has retained much of its German character. Schmidt's Sausage Haus, in business since the 1880s, draws crowds for its sausages and giant cream puffs. Valter's serves eclectic German-inspired fare. You can see a statue of Friedrich Schiller in the middle of his namesake park. The Columbus Maennerchor, a German men's choir founded in 1848, is still going strong. For a true neighborhood feel, you can even stay in a restored historic home with German Village Guesthouse, a three-suite property with a beautiful garden. There are plenty of places to shop (including the 32-room Book Loft) and many other spots to enjoy an elegant patio dinner or savor a latte. To learn more about the German Village experience, check out our guide here.
Now, it's easier than ever to experience the heritage, architecture and flavors of German Village. German Village Tours hosts a 75-minute walking tour every Friday and Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be booked here.
The German Village Society operates walking tours between April and October, departing the German Village Meeting Haus. Tickets cost $15 for an approximately one-hour tour. Your guide will take you through the brick streets lined with quaint homes, gardens, shops, galleries and restaurants.
Columbus City Adventures operates private German Village walking tours that are perfect for families, friends and local organizations to learn about the rich history of the area. The tour runs approximately 1.5 hours and tickets can be booked here.
Columbus Food Adventures runs a weekly $62 German Village Food Tour, that lasts about four hours and includes six stops and tastes at the restaurants, bakeries and patios of the neighborhood. You can book tickets for that tour here.
The neighborhood is great to visit any time of the year, but it hosts two major events that invite the community to get an inside look at village life. The first is the German Village Haus und Garten Tour, which gets you access to the interiors and garden spaces of more than 10 neighborhood homes. The second is Village Lights, annually the first weekend in December, which kicks off the holiday season with thousands of holiday lights, as well as special shopping and dining experiences.